By nintendoeats 124 Comments
EDIT: It has come to my attention that my definition of Ludonarrative was wrong. Ludonarrative is the relationship between events in a cutscene and events in the game. My points are still valid, but when I say Ludonarrative dissonance I am reffering to a disparity between a player's motivations and their actions.
(This article was a little more timely when I wrote it, but due to a change in circumstances I figured that I may as well throw it up here)
In my view, the term “video game” has become something of a misnomer. It certainly makes sense most of the time, but at this point video games are far more than sets of rules and goals. They are designed to make the player experience things, which do not always come down to the highs and lows of tactical decision making. That said, the sheer fact that one is able to acknowledge the broad potential of the video game medium does not make for great art. Just like any other form of media, the video game still requires a focus and purpose to be truly great, and that is why The Killer can fuck right off.
A brief description is necessary, though The Killer is free and only a few minutes long. I do recommend that you play it yourself, simply to make it more clear how utterly worthless it is. The Killer is a “notgame” in which you play as a man with a gun. That gun is pointed at a prisoner. The first few minutes are spent walking through various 8-bit environments by holding the space bar. After this trek, you are given a crosshair and told to shoot the prisoner. The game then does a rather clever transition (I give credit where credit is due) from a field of dead stick figures to the credits.
To recap, the entire interaction consists of holding the spacebar to walk and then choosing whether or not to shoot a prisoner. There is no context given for any of this, and no character development to speak of. It is merely a soldier, a prisoner and the overall theme of killing.
The problem that I have, the reason that The Killer can fuck right off, is that it completely fails to make a point. There is no reason to shoot the prisoner, so most people simply won’t and that will be that. The game does nothing to put you in the place of the soldier, to make you understand your character. There is extreme ludonarrative dissonance in the game, which essentially eliminates the biggest strength of interactive fiction.
But we aren’t done yet. Perhaps this ludonarrative dissonance is the whole point. By taking this moment out of context, the game proposes that any context would simply be a post-rationalisation. When you are presented with the choice to kill or not kill somebody, not killing them is the right choice. That is a valid theme for a work of art, but making a video game out of it is an absurd thing to do. The strength of video games is that they allow us to poke and prod at a system and experience it as the characters do. The Killer does NOT allow you do any of these things. It is a linear story that does nothing to make the player feel like they are experiencing it.
Imagine that The Killer was a short film. The characters never speak; all that exists between them is the power of the gun and a subtle emotional connection. This creates a world for your mind to explore during the process of the film, and it feels natural because the characters WILL behave accurately to themselves, whatever that happens to be. This is in stark contrast to a video game in which the soldier will behave accurately to the player, not themselves.
At this point one could be justified in saying that The Killer has value merely because THERE IS a message to it that can be interpreted. The problem is that I’m still not really sure what the game’s message is supposed to be. I didn’t come up with my explanation until thinking about The Killer for the express purpose of this article. There is no way to find a message in the game without facing the extreme intellectual flaws in its design.
Perhaps there is no message. Perhaps The Killer is just a thing to be experienced, and you take away from it whatever message you want. I suppose that it serves that purpose very well, but if we are satisfied with “a thing that you can experience, ” as either artists or consumers, then video games are never going to reach their true potential as an artistic medium. The Killer is ill-conceived and poorly designed. It isn’t my ambassador to the art world, it is not the thing that I would show to somebody to expose the strengths of games as a form of expression. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, The Killer can fuck right off.